Is the Bible Inconsistent on Marriage?

A picture was floating around on Facebook that caught my attention!  It was reflecting on what the Bible has to say about marriage from a skeptic’s point of view.  The point is to show how inconsistent Christians and those who hold to the Bible are in regards to this topic. 

First, the picture:

Marriage Equals

And so the beat goes on from the skeptics.  The picture above outlines all of the types of ‘unions’ they say were endorsed by God/the Scriptures, thus showing that even the Bible doesn’t have those parameters.  It seems that skeptics believe they are the ones who read the Scriptures better than we do—but they have a flawed hermeneutic.  Their arguments are nothing new, but they are new to some.

I would recommend you reading the book by Paul Copan entitled Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God—and to this issue specifically, go to chapters 10 and 11 (pp. 110-123).  He works through the  issues that most skeptics of the Scriptures bring up to show Christian’s supposed hypocrisy in saying that marriage is between one man and one woman.  I have distilled some of Copan’s comments and added some of my own to help us sort through this.  I recognize that there will still be some who are not satisfied with this explanation.  Even so, please consider!

  1. The ideal is outlined in Genesis 1-2, reiterated in Matthew 19:1-10 by Jesus Himself.  Genesis 1-2 shows an equality between male and female.  God created both and made them both in His image (Genesis 1:26-27.  In the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel were to honor their father and mother (Exodus 20:12 Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16; 21:18-21).  They were to observe the teachings of the father and the mother (Proverbs 6:20; 23:22).  Box #1 in the picture above indicates that the wives are subordinate/subservient to the husbands.  Both are equal, just with differing roles.  And yes, purity mattered for both men and women.  Sin mattered because what a person does does not just affect them personally but everyone else. 
  2. The most basic of literary studies show that understanding the culture, times, and context of when something was written tells 90% of the story.  Notice every one of these examples are from the first five books of the Scriptures.  There were customs observed  in these Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) times that God permitted to continue, but were never intended to be what God ordained.  Thus, the issue of concubines was never approved of by God (see Genesis 1:26-27; Matthew 19:1-10), but even with the concubines, God used this to help women in a society that thought little of them to take care and provide for them.  Don’t put 2012 standards on ANE times.  In box #3, the slave/handmaiden of a wife, such as Hagar, was given to Abraham by Sarah due to her fear that their line would be discontinued.  It was a foolish thing to do, and tried to make a shortcut on the promise of God (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:1-6). And we are still paying for this today, with the sons of Ishmael (Arabs) and the sons of Isaac (Jews) still fighting today.  No, not a good thing—as God warned in Genesis 1.
  3. The levirate marriage (where, if a husband dies, the brother takes the woman as a wife) is intended to help continue on the lineage of the husband if a son had not already been born into that family, but also to take care of the wife—an important matter in those days, even if it’s not so much in our day.  Again, don’t put 2012 standards on this.  It’s not only bad practice, but arrogant. 
  4. Just because something is described in the Scriptures does not mean it is prescribed.  Copan brings up the issue of Thomas Jefferson and his supposed relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings.  But with Thomas’ age (64) and ill health, it was more likely that his younger brother Randolph committed these acts.  Yet, even if Jefferson did, that did not take away from the notion that all men are “created equal.”  In the ANE during these times, custom permitted a married man to take a concubine—for polygamy was taken for granted.  Yet, in Deuteronomy 17:17, the warning for future kings strictly said that it would turn away his heart, nor shall he prosper (King Solomon was a prime example).  Leviticus 18:18 forbids polygamy and incest—something Samuel’s father Elkanah did with Hannah and Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:6).
  5. The laws that God laid down helped protect the neglected and unloved from the brutality of the ANE ancient customs.  Exodus 21:7-11 speaks of the servant girl as a prospective wife (go ahead and read it—I’ll be here when you’re done). Everything that’s brought up is not ideal, but here is an example of case law.  But the shock of a father selling his daughter?  This was done out of economic desperation, so they were sent to work to work off the debt owed by the family.  On top of this, a son is mentioned about the possibility of taking this person as his wife.  Polygamy?  Not necessarily—for God has not endorsed that!  It’s more of a relationship of room and board, with the term ‘marital rights’ coming from the same Hebrew word as that of a dwelling place (Deuteronomy 33:27).  So, if the man rejects this servant as his wife, she is to be given her freedom.  If he wants to marry her, on board as a daughter.  If he marries another, she is to receive food, clothing, and lodging.  
  6. The rapist must marry his victim?  In reading Deuteronomy 22:23-29, we see on closer inspection what the issue is.  The verse mentioned in the picture above is not ‘rape,’ but sexual relations between two consenting adults, which is fornication.  The word ‘seizes’ is a word that means ‘takes/catches’ and is a weaker word than the word for ‘rape.’  Once they are discovered, the man is shamed and guilty of seducing an unengaged woman. But while she is pressured, she is complicit, not acting against her will. ‘They’ are discovered, not ‘he.’ Though both complicit, the man will bear the judgment.  And since the woman was violated and would have a difficult time finding a man under these circumstances, this man who is ultimately responsible is responsible to take care of her.  He violated her, he takes care of her—but only by her consent here. She (along with her father) are under no obligation to marry this man. 
  7. Male Soldier/POW?  This is from Deuteronomy 21:10-14.  Again, like the above, this is the way God provided for the women to be taken care of as POWs.  The shaving of the head, trimming of nails, and the new wardrobe were ways of them to be integrated into the society of Israel.  If there was a problem between the two, the woman is set free from that problematic household. 
  8. While we may think by God permitting an action that means He approves of it, remember that God does not immediately judge sinful actions.  There are many more issues we can talk about.  But by God addressing an issue that took place in the ANE culture does not mean that he approves of it.  Remember, they were new residents in the Promised Land of Canaan who had established their own customs.  But this did not change the underlying promises and commandments did not change.  God is always looking out for those who are the most downtrodden and outcast in society. 

At a later date, I hope to address some of the other issues raised in the picture above.  In the meantime, be responsible on how you approach a piece of literature—the Scriptures included. 

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Categories: apologetics, Marriage | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Is the Bible Inconsistent on Marriage?

  1. Anonymous

    The fact that you mention culture means it is man made. That is like avoiding the issue that it is inconsistent by saying it is okay for it to be inconsistent. Men are inconsistent. Men wrote the bible. The bible is inconsistent. That is what was being argued in the picture.

  2. Ok, so in the Law they were told to marry their brother’s wife if their brother died without children. Onan was before the giving of the Law, but Judah wanted him to do the same thing. Why? Why did men have to do this? Isn’t this unfair to the wife of the brother marrying the other brother’s wife. Adultery/unfaithfulness is such a BIG deal in my mind. I just can’t understand why God would want a man to commit adultery on his wife by marrying his brother’s wife, even if it is to raise seed to his brother. It bothers me to tears. I know I shouldn’t question God, and I don’t on other issues, but on this issue it’s just like the Devil keeps it in my mind and it shakes me up. Why is David marrying Abigail seen as a good thing in the Bible? Why don’t women seem to be equals to men from Genesis 4 til Proverbs, then from Proverbs til Matthew. It just seems so hard to think that God would give something different to Israel that doesn’t apply to us. God said that there is no difference between male and female, bond and free, Jew and Greek. He said that men should love their wife as their own selves, and that the wife should reverance her husband. That we TWO are one flesh. TWO being one flesh was taught in Genesis, but it’s like people didn’t care/listen or did it change? What about the marrying the brother’s wife? Wouldn’t that vex the wife he was married to? How is that fair?

    Anyways, I know this sounds like a fight. It’s not. It’s something that is really bothering me. I hope you can help me to better understand this.

    God bless,

  3. Hannah: Glad to hear from you. In the original instance, this was a way for the wife (who had no standing or legal recourse in that society) to be taken care of and continue on the line. We have to be sure not to let 21st century sensibilities dictate how we look at these things. Same with David–keep in mind, it’s just descriptive (describing what’s happening) not prescriptive (that is, God is not prescribing that this is how it should be). We are free beings, and he gives us latitude to choose, even if it’s the wrong thing.

    Jesus comes along and brings back Genesis 1 to full view. And no, people didn’t care. They looked more to the culture around them rather than to the Creator who gave them this charge.

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